I was very excited about reading this book as I have always loved Alain De Botton, I was also quite excited about the prospect of the advice he could give about how I could enjoy work more and answer the big questions about it such as what is the point, as it says on the blurb. Overall though I was a bit disappointed, the title of the book just didn’t seem to match the content.
I was expecting his normal approach of comments about modern-day work juxtaposed with comments from philosophers about the deeper meaning of work, however some of the chapters especially those on cargo ships, rocket science and aviation just seemed to be about those subjects rather than the work actually involved.
There were aspects that I really enjoyed such as the chapters on biscuit manufacture and entrepreneurship and the sections on how much of our work seems ultimately meaningless. I enjoyed a brief part about Aristotle who argued that there was a basic incompatibility between satisfaction and a paid position, and that financial need placed one on par with slaves and animals. This definitely backs up my view that we should pack it in and go on holiday. Apparently this view of work was widely accepted until the Renaissance when there was an emphasis on the glories of work (boo!). Botton argues that this led to the unthinking cruelty of the bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work (and love), when in fact they almost never do. He says this is an exception rather than a rule, but is normally presented vice versa and then this gives us feeling of shame for failing to achieve our ambitions.
The aspect that I really didn’t like about the book is that De Botton seems to be rather cruel some of the characters that he spends time with whilst researching the book, he unecessarily points out things such as a man’s smelly house or bad breath. Then when I was doing a bit or research I found a review from the New York Times Book Review which said the same but then was very damning of the whole book, I then found this comment posted to the reviewer from De Botton
“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.” http://www.steamthing.com/2009/06/review-of-alain-de-bottons-pleasures-and-sorrows-of-work.html
I remember reading about this in the media but it does seem a little harsh of De Botton simply for a bad review.
Overall, an interesting book but definitely not one of his best and wont give you much inspiration if you are trying to work out how to give up teaching (or something). The Art of Travel or any of his others are much better so read that instead.